Communities of Faith Responding to the Needs of Iraqis

Baghdad (November 19, 2003) — The suffering of post-war Iraq extends beyond the daily violence in and around Baghdad to the many vulnerable families who can’t meet their everyday needs.

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is helping some 20,000 of these families achieve greater food security in the days and weeks to come through widespread distributions of family food parcels. IOCC, the humanitarian aid agency of Orthodox Christians, also is distributing parcels with hygiene items such as detergent, soap and toothpaste.

“It is sad to witness the misery of people living in a wealthy country like Iraq deprived of basic needs of life, including decent living conditions and education,” said George Antoun, IOCC’s Middle East regional director. “We have a wide range of assistance that we’re going to give.”

Despite the poor security situation in and around Baghdad and the pullout of some international relief agencies, IOCC will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable Iraqis, Antoun said. “We have every intention to keep the operation going in Iraq right now.”

IOCC is monitoring the security situation and remains focused on the safety of its staff. Antoun traveled to Iraq in July and again in September to assess the needs and open an IOCC office in Baghdad. Currently, IOCC is implementing nearly $400,000 in humanitarian assistance in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul, supported by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the relief alliance Action by Churches Together.

IOCC began operations in Iraq in April, soon after the end of armed conflict, distributing food, hygiene and first-aid parcels through the Middle East Council of Churches. IOCC is using that same network of churches and mosques to do its current distributions, Antoun said.

“There is a wide range of things that people need in Iraq, and it varies from one section to another,” Antoun said. “You still have poor people who need food, even basic things. These people are either unemployed or they lost something as a result of the fighting. They need relief support, in terms of food and non-food items.”

IOCC is working closely with the Antiochian Orthodox community in Baghdad in the warehousing and distribution of relief supplies, Antoun said. Churches and mosques are providing IOCC with lists of the neediest members of their communities.

“We have identified a number of families who have handicapped children, and we’re going to support them,” Antoun said. “We also have located a number of displacement centers where people are living now and they’re not getting any support. So we’re going to provide help to them.”

IOCC’s parent body, the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas, is encouraging all Orthodox Christians to support IOCC’s efforts in Iraq through prayer and giving.

IOCC is an implementing partner of Action by Churches Together, an international alliance of churches and relief agencies.

IOCC has worked in the Middle East since 1997 and, in addition to Iraq, has programs in the Holy Land and Lebanon.